I am not sure if "to employ" means "to have someone on the payroll" or "to put someone on the payroll." Is it ambiguous? Consider the following sentence:

The company employed 20 plumbers last week.

Does it mean that as of last week, the company had 20 plumbers on the payroll, or the company hired 20 plumbers (i.e., put them on the payroll) last week?

1 Answer 1


It is a little ambiguous, although it does sound as though the second option "the company enrolled 20 plumbers onto its payroll" is meant.

If you meant the first, you may want to put it in the passive, and write something like "The company had 20 plumbers employed (as of) last week".

  • Some North Americans told me they only use "employ" to mean "to have someone on the payroll." In other words, they use it to express a state. Are you a North American?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 7:43
  • @Apollyon No, I'm British. Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 7:47
  • Here's a sentence meant to bring out the two job-related senses of "employ" (i.e., state vs. action): The company employs a total of 30 welders, including the two new ones it employed last Friday. Does it sound correct, if clunky, to you?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 7:53
  • @Apollyon I'd be tempted to use a synonym rather than use the same word in two different senses in the same sentence. Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 8:42

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